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Madonna Vies With Hepburn for Title of 21st Century Post-Feminist Icon

Originally Published 07 March 2003

As International Women's Day on 8th March 2003 approaches new research hails film star Audrey Hepburn, who first hit silver screens in the 1950s, as a rival to Madonna as 21st century post-feminist icon. Dr Rachel Moseley from the University of Warwick reveals the flexibility of Hepburn's image has ensured she remains an ideal of femininity fifty years after she first attained fame.

Dr Rachel Moseley?s book Growing up with Audrey Hepburn is the first large-scale study of one of Hollywood's most loved stars. Admired in the 1950s and 1960s at the height of her film career, and today, fifty years later, younger fans respect Hepburn as a post-feminist figure who could ?have it all? ? femininity, romance and strength.

Dr Rachel Moseley, from the Department of Film and Television Studies, said: "Hepburn's enduring appeal rests on the flexibility of her look. She is both 'trousers and tiaras', in that she is modern in dress and attitude in films such as Sabrina 1954 and Funny Face 1958, but simultaneously conventionally feminine. Her almost androgynous look is still popular today, and copied by models Kate Moss and Jodie Kidd. One of the reasons Hepburn has not been studied in depth previously is because she's so difficult to pin down."

Many of Hepburn's film characters undergo transformations which are not only in terms of fashion and beauty, but also in terms of class mobility - often through education as well as romance- making her a figure particularly appealing to young working class women with class aspirations in the 1950s and 1960s. Today, singer and actress Martine McCutcheon, cites Hepburn as her favourite star, and describes her character Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's as 'a girl from a not very rich family who wanted to be someone.'

Hepburn offered a new ideal of women that was glamorous but accessible, admired by both women and men. Hepburn was the opposite of some of her voluptuous contemporaries, such as Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor. Her streamlined, modern look and gamine hair cut was very significant, and is endlessly emulated. Her body shape was adolescent -almost boyish- making her an ideal for many young women in the 1950s, and an aspiration for burgeoning feminist identities in that period.

For more information contact: Jenny Murray, Assistant Press Officer, University of Warwick, Tel: 02476 574255, Mobile: 07876 217740, Email: or Dr Rachel Moseley, Film and Media Department, University of Warwick, Tel: 0121 441 3328, Email:

Growing up with Audrey Hepburn by Dr Rachel Moseley is published by Manchester University Press, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9NR Tel: 0161 275 2310 Email: For a review copy contact Jenny Murray Email:

Star of Breakfast at Tiffany's and My Fair Lady, Audrey Hepburn went on help the rights of women and children first hand as Special Ambassador for UNICEF. Her humanitarian work continues today in the form of the Audrey Hepburn Children's Fund, a children's charity supported by children.